Damien Hirst and his market-embracing antics may have been all the buzz of recent years, but in a rather ironic twist of fate he is now among the contemporary artists whose auction sales are sputtering. Contrary to popular belief, Hirst’s prices were not rock solid to begin with. Even in the most fecund quarters of 2007 and 2008, his market index demonstrates even less consistency than contemporary art over the same period (Fig. 6).
After September 2008, the month that featured Hirst’s “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” sale, his market bottomed out. The glut of works in Hirst’s historic September auction may have decreased the demand for his art, even his high end output. Hirst’s Butterfly, Spin and Spot paintings account for the most value on his market today (his Vitrines and Cabinets have all but disappeared from auctions since 2008). At the September sale, all three categories of his work brought lower average prices than they had achieved in prior months, and those averages have since declined further (Fig. 7).
Moreover, in the November evening sales that followed “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever,” two thirds of the Hirsts offered were bought-in (Fig. 8). In 2009, Hirst’s BI rates stabilized, but the top end of his market became uncharacteristically monolithic. Nearly two out of every three dollars spent on a Hirst in a 2009 evening sale went to Butterfly paintings (Fig. 9), and next week, the only Hirsts offered in the evening sales will be (surprise!) Butterfly paintings. Christie’s and Sotheby’s each offer one, while Phillips is abstaining from Hirst altogether.